Going Native – Joining the locals at Neua Tom Baan Singha.

Neua Tom Baan Singha

You might have driven past Neua Tom Baan Singha any number of times without thinking to stop and try the food. Those who do however are in for a real treat. The restaurant only serves a handful of Thai dishes, each of which is made with great care and attention, at prices that are extremely competitive. You can eat well here for just 60 Baht. The sign outside is only in Thai, but you’ll recognize the restaurant without difficulty: as you drive along the ring-road through Lipa Noi heading for Lamai, it’s 300 metres from the traffic lights on the left, directly opposite the first 7-Eleven that you come to.

Neua Tom Baan SinghaNeua Tom Baan Singha is fairly new, and was opened a year ago by an extremely entrepreneurial couple, Khun Yam and her husband Khun Tanhoo. Not only is it a restaurant but it doubles as a cake shop, Candlecake Homemade, where Khun Yam makes all kinds of cakes, for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and also for cafés. She’s exceptionally good at what she does and opened a baking school in Myanmar, where she regularly trains students and offers seminars. Khun Tanhoo, meanwhile doubles as a professional photographer, and works for some of the best-known resorts on Samui as well as covering weddings. If that’s not enough, the couple are working on a new project, to open a football practice field that’ll be close to the restaurant premises.

Neua Tom Baan SinghaBoth Khun Yam and Khun Tanhoo take turns at cooking at the restaurant, and are equally skilled. A lot of their success is down to after-hours preparation. The restaurant is open from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm daily, except Sundays, but the place comes alive even when it’s closed as soup and stock has to be made well in advance before the next working day starts. The couple make it look very easy to produce dishes of great quality, but to do so requires high quality ingredients and exactly the right cooking style. They buy most of what they need from the local market at Ban Hua Thanon, thereby making sure that standards are kept high.

When you arrive at the restaurant, simply choose a seat at one of the simple wooden tables. You’ll be served water unless there’s something else that you’d like as well – the restaurant has a range of drinks. The food’s the main thing here, and if you go up to the cooking range that’s conveniently at the entrance to the restaurant, you’ll be able to place your order. And you’ll also be able to see what you’ll be getting, and help decide on it too, if you so wish. Otherwise, simply stay at your table until your order’s taken. The dishes are all typically Thai with a main theme of tom yum style brown soups. These soups are hearty and delicious, with a scent of lemongrass, herbs and the meat that goes into them. Since their base soup has been gently cooked for many hours, they become a sort of highly nourishing broth, to which the other ingredients have been added. You can opt for a mild-tasting soup or one that’s highly spiced. The spices by the way never taste merely hot as they do at some establishments; there’s instead a delicacy about them, despite their heat, and the tastes come through quite clearly.

Neua Tom Baan SinghaSome of the ingredients that go into your dish may include bergamot leaf, galangal and smatterings of basil. When it comes to chillies, Thais are of course expert, and in the restaurant there’s a type often used that may be unfamiliar to you, known as ‘galiang’. It’s hotter than most so is sparingly used. It’s most popular in the north of both Thailand and Myanmar, where it’s a favourite of the Karen people. It’s characterized by a bright orange colour, and you’ll see a large bowl of it in the restaurant’s cooking area.

Another ingredient that you may be surprised to see is chrysanthemum. The flowers are edible, and who would guess that they’re the perfect accompaniment for meat? Khun Yam and Khun Tanhoo use it in a dish called ‘luak jim’ which consists of strips of meat eaten along with the flowers and a spicy chilli dip. The dish is more usually found in the north of Thailand, but there are many variations throughout the country. You’ll even find it on the menu of the Bangkok express trains heading south to Malaysia, for example. Here at the restaurant the meat flavours are deliciously pronounced. The dish may be
completely unfamiliar to you, but it’s a great one – and you won’t want to leave anything on your plate.

Neua Tom Baan SinghaBoth Khun Yam and Khun Tanhoo speak good English, and are easily able to understand diners’ requests. It goes without saying that if you’d like a dish to be less spicy, all you need to do is to have a word with them. They’re both very approachable and like to chat with their customers when they’re not too busy preparing food.

Neua Tom Baan Singha has already made a seriously good name for itself, serving exquisitely tasty food in a friendly setting. With its simple yet wholesome approach to cooking, it appeals not just to local appetites, but to holidaymakers and
foreign residents, who are happy to have discovered it.

Dimitri Waring